<< The Body Politic

Brown U to ROTC: Not in Our Backyard

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

ROTC will not be returning to Brown University—if the Corporation, the university’s highest governing body, follows the recommendation just released by President Ruth J. Simmons.

In her report, Simmons recommends that Brown still allow students to cross-enroll in Army ROTC at Providence College. However, as to establishing a program on campus, she writes:

We should proceed to explore the possibilities for Brown students to participate in cross-institutional Naval or Air Force ROTC programs housed on other campuses. In addition, we should commit to helping to arouse greater national attention to the discrimination of the military and others against transgender individuals.

With no Air Force or Navy ROTC program in the state of Rhode Island, Simmons is really recommending that either students drive two hours to MIT or that some other college president—one less cowed by campus radicals, perhaps—establish a program for Brown students to attend. As Jonathan Hillman, an alum and chairman of the Brown Alumni for ROTCwrites in the Providence Journal, “In short, the message is: It’s okay, just not in our backyard.”

If the Corporation accepts Simmons’ recommendation, it will ensure that Brown remains the lone Ivy League holdout on ROTC. It will be going against the recommendations of its own committee, which voted in favor of bringing Naval and Air Force ROTC back to campus—not to mention the 77 percent of Brown students who also favor expanding ROTC. Moreover, it will be evading what even Simmons recognizes as the crucial question at stake: whether the “University understands and acknowledges its role as a national university in participating in the development of leaders for the country, including its military.”

At the moment, it looks like the answer is no. If that’s the case, there’s an easy solution to the halfway house situation Brown is currently in. As Hillman notes:

If the corporation decides that ROTC is incompatible with Brown’s mission, it should sever relations with Providence College’s ROTC program. In doing so, Brown should be prepared to forgo the roughly $10 million in Defense Department funding it receives annually. For too long, the university has pretended that holding ROTC at arm’s length satisfies its obligations under the Solomon Amendment, which lets the defense secretary deny funding if university policies prevent or prohibit ROTC and military recruiting on campus. The only reason why Brown’s funding hasn’t been taken away is because the Defense Department hasn’t enforced the law. Whatever the corporation decides, it’s unacceptable that Brown continue its policy of equivocation.